Economy could drag Obama's poll bump

President Barack Obama speaks as he welcomes the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, May 4, 2011, in Washington.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
President Barack Obama
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Obama received a nice bump up in polls conducted after the killing of Osama bin Laden, including the latest CBS News/New York Times Poll. His overall approval rating rose 11 points, from 46 percent two weeks before bin Laden's death to 57 percent afterwards.

His job approval rating also rose 15 points among Republicans (though still is only 24 percent). And his approval ratings on specific international issues, such as handling foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism, all rose by double digits.


This is surely good news for the president, but the poll also reveals the continuing presence of a black cloud, as evaluations of his handling of the economy sank to a new low. Just 34 percent approved of his handling of what has been the country's most important issue for years now, and 55 percent disapproved.

Approval for his handling of the economy fell four points compared to two weeks earlier. While a 56 percent majority of those in the president's own party approved of the job he is doing in this area, 33 percent disapproved.

As early as January 2008, the economy supplanted the war in Iraq in CBS News Polls as the most important issue facing the country, sometimes volunteered by as many as 60 percent of Americans. Since then, the percentage that says the economy is in bad shape has ranged from 7 in ten to as many as 94 percent.

In a CBS News/New York Times Poll conducted in April 2011, 80 percent said the economy was bad, and just 23 percent said it was improving. Thirty-nine percent said it was getting worse - not a surprise, with gas prices on the rise and majorities of Americans consistently reporting that they are concerned about job loss in their household.

History provides one example of how critical a president's handling of the economy, and how fleeting accolades for success overseas, can be. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, President George H. W. Bush's job approval rating soared to 88 percent, according to a March CBS News/New York Times Poll.

Approval remained high for the next six months, but by October, with concerns about the economy growing, approval began to drop, and in November it was just 51 percent.


By November 1991, 73 percent said the economy was in bad shape, and 66 percent disapproved of how President G.H.W. Bush was handling it; just 25 percent approved. 44 percent felt the economy was deteriorating.

With the economy showing signs of recovery, President Obama's experience may prove to be much different than President Bush's was in 1991 -- it is too soon to say. But success overseas, and a subsequent increase in approval that follows, may - or may not -- mark a permanent shift in perceptions.

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    Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.